“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
All men are created equal, but in American, as has always been the case, some men are created more equal than others.
Some are more American, and so, are more deserving of the American Dream. All others must prove, not once, not twice, but every day of their lives that they are deserving of some lesser version of the dream. They must beg for the favor and learn when to keep quiet, keep hidden, and give thanks for what they’ve been given. They have to accept that their lesser participation in the Dream can be revoked at any moment.
Many American’s believe that Martin Luther King Jr. was a pacifist, too many Americans. It is true that he was a lover of love and peace and dreamed of a day when fighting wouldn’t be necessary, but he never believed the exploited, the neglected, the suffering, or the needy should keep quiet. He never believed that the abusers, the exploiters, the greedy, or the cruel should be allowed to operate without being challenged. He never believed that talking about it made the problem worse. He never believed that “not talking about it” was the way to a more equal, more compassionate world.
Martin Luther King Jr. loved America. There is no doubt about that, but he made it his business, his life’s work, to continually criticize her. He was deeply disappointed not just in America’s past, but its current state and where it was headed. He called out injustice and lies where he saw them, and he demanded a change be made. He asked time and time again: What kind of country do we want to be? What kind of future are we trying to build?
He called for a more compassionate world, I thought we all wanted the same, but I’m starting to wonder. When we say “all men are created equal” we have to be honest with ourselves about what we mean. Does “men” mean only cis, white men? Does “all men” mean men and women, but only if they look like our forefathers and behave, dress, love, and marry the way that history, religion, and the patriarchy say they should. Does “all men” mean certain classes, certain belief systems, certain skin tones, or ancestral lands?
Does “all men” mean only American born?
America has many sins it must atone for, but the people who are in a place to facilitate such penance show no interest in doing so. Worse, they have learned nothing from history and are hell-bent on repeating it.
There is a long history of America opening her borders when cheap labor is needed. Whether its building railroads, picking oranges, or peeling shrimp we want immigrants, but only if they stay hidden, stay in their place, do the job we want them to do, and leave when it is done. We want immigrants who know they are not, in fact, created equal.
So again I ask you, who are we talking about when we talk about equality? And to that question, I’ll add another, to whom does equality belong? Who has the right to dole it out and whose responsibility is it to act as a haven for this highest ideal?
“I criticize America because I love her. I want her to stand as a moral example to the world.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
If equality and the pursuit of life and liberty are qualities we believe are intrinsic to human existence, and if we claim to be a land where human beings can come and live the kind of life humans were meant to, where they could be free, and happy, and fulfilled, how can we shut our borders and claim a higher moral ground?
How can we reconcile what we say with actions we are taking now? How can we reconcile a belief that all people are equal with the belief that where you come from and the way you look determines your future? Who are we to decide who is worthy of this kind of life? How, after all, our own ancestors have been through, has it become so easy to turn away the people who need it the most?
We’ve begun, once again to think of profits over people and as tensions rise and our fear and frustrations grow, we become greedier, more suspicious, intensely guarded. We start talking about closing our borders. We start pulling back the help we had offered. We change our stance from one of a world leader, world savior, world mentor and measure of what a country can be when it puts people first to one of America First.
Now the man who has been elected to represent those beautiful ideals this country was built on starts questioning why America needs people from “shithole countries.” He wants a merit-based immigration policy where people must prove their worthiness and earn their equality and freedom. He wants these gifts to belong to people based on arbitrary factors like where they were born.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and the true American Dream, are being forgotten. But it it’s just the President. Half of this country has forgotten what our role in this world was supposed to be. We’ve forgotten what sets us apart.
America does not open her borders only to people she needs most. America’s borders are opened to the people who need her most.
It would be nice if every country in the world could provide for its people. It would be nice if every world leader believed that all their citizens deserved to have food, medicine, work, and safety, but they don’t. In a world where so much suffering is taking place, how can we all, who know better, turn our backs and still believe we are the moral compass of the world and the land of bravery and freedom?
Once we took such an enlightened position, we couldn’t go back. The only course for us was one of more freedom, more justice, more opportunity, and more equality. To now try to close our eyes again to cruelty, genocide, and human rights violations in the name of protecting ourselves and furthering our wealth and power in a sin worse than any committed in the past. There are no excuses. We aren’t so ignorant anymore.
Now we let people die, live in squalor, and suffer hunger, war, disease, and loss deliberately.
What would Dr. King think of us now? How might he respond?
“Rationalizations and the incessant search for scapegoats are the psychological cataracts that blind us to our sins. But the day has passed for superficial patriotism. He who lives with untruth lives in spiritual slavery.”
— Martin Luther King Jr.
I firmly believe he would never stop talking about America’s failures and I do not doubt that many of the people who claim to honor his legacy would, if he were alive, tell him to leave this country if he felt that way.
I want those people to know they do not honor his legacy. I want them to know that, if he were alive, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be someone who would support immigrant rights. He would support Dreamers; he would support “chain migration,” and the Green Card Lottery. He would support more refugees. He would support people from Africa, and El Salvador, and Haiti, and Mexico. He would support keeping families together. He would remind us every day that American cannot be great and selfish, and greedy, and cruel at the same time.
He would be saddened, disappointed, and furious. He would take a knee, and he would shout Black Lives Matter. He would riot, and speak out, and he would not agree that America is becoming great again. I have no doubt.
And it would all be for love of country. When you love someone, you tell them the truth and I too love this country enough, to tell the truth. The truth is we have a long way to go. Longer in fact to go then we did when Dr. King gave his famous speech so often quoted and used to silence the very people he was dreaming for. At least back then we had the right vision. At least back then we were heading in the right direction. Quite a few steps have been taken backward since the world lost such a great man.
Honor him, his service, and his sacrifice by loving this country enough to make it great through kindness, empathy, and humility. Honor him by continually criticizing this us and reminding us of how far we have strayed and how far we have yet to go.
Because when we label some countries and some people as less deserving, less equal, and in effect, less human than us just because of the language they speak, the way they worship, or the color of their skin we are the ones who become less American. We lose our way and forget what the American Dream and King’s Dream are all about. A true patriot is never silent. A true American patriot can be found among it’s poorest, and brownest. True patriots are found among the disruptors, the criticizers, the ones who make us uncomfortable, who make us feel bad, who force us, kicking and screaming, to change.
A true patriot, one who puts his country first and wants her to do better by being better. A true patriot, a Martin Luther King Jr. style patriot, is one the masses would rather not hear. I hope we can all one day, live up to that image.
Oh, how great we might be then.
“There can be no deep disappointment where there is no deep love”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.